I’d been working at the Piggly-Wiggly about six weeks when Mr. Blocker threw the can. I was stocking TP when I first saw it sailing over the paper products aisle, slow motion like a movie. It was a 26 ounce can of Delmonte baby peas with the green label. The silver of the aluminum flashed as it missed the florescent tube and sailed behind Pet Food and Housewares. I swear to you I heard the thunk. There was a pause then a woman began screaming. Joyce, my girl friend, hollered my name, “Robert!” and I hauled butt.
As I skidded around the end of the aisle, Miss Petrey was crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood. Miss Jean, who always shopped with her, was still screaming and jumping and waving her hands like she was going to fly off. It would have been better if she had, the old biddy, because she didn’t do anything to help the whole time. In fact, when the paramedics came, they went to her first. I had wrapped Miss Petrey in an old blanket and hunched over her to keep the people from looking at her. Miss Petrey used to tutor me in history. “Robert,” she’d say, “you have a mind like a sieve.” She would have been real embarrassed if she had been awake. Everybody in the store had come running to gape at her. I did pull her skirt down and cover her legs.
Joyce, when we met after work, said that Mr. Blocker was aiming the can at his wife. I can believe that because at the softball game, he threw from first to home and hit Del, who was on third, in the leg. I can also believe that he was trying to hit Mrs. Blocker. She’s one of those really pink and white blondes that uses everything to her advantage. One of those who thinks make-up takes off ten years so you’re still twenty-five. I saw her in teeny high heels near the spices one Saturday. She had Del by the tie and was pulling him closer. I had to get Joyce to call on the intercom for help at the register even though she didn’t really need it. Del’s a friend. Mrs. Blocker came after me but I grabbed a bunch of banana boxes. Joyce would have killed me.
I know it sounds like there’s a big pit of sin at the Piggly-Wiggly but all that food does get some folks in the mood. Joyce got me the job because I was always hanging around the check stand looking at her anyway. Joyce says we can get married after we both get out of high school – meaning me. I’m a year behind because of math. Joyce is good with math but she’s a loyal girl and didn’t dump me just because they kept me back. I would get to just staring at her while I was supposed to be stacking a tower of baked beans. They were on sale for 26 cents that week.
While the paramedics loaded up Miss Petrey (they took Miss Jean in for good measure), Joyce came up for me to put my arm around her. Mr. Blocker was sitting on a box of canned peaches in the middle of the aisle. Peaches had a coupon that week. The cops were there – Jason Baird and Tom Doyle. I wouldn’t want to face old Baird for anything. I used to swim at the club when he was a lifeguard and he’s hard. He’d put me out of the pool for just splashing a girl just once. Old Baird looked like he was going to throw Mr. Blocker out of the pool for the whole summer.
“Do you think they’ll lock him up?” Joyce looked up at me with her big browns all double wide. I just shrugged.